TIP: My grandfather’s recipe calls for just 1 cup of sugar. I like everything sweeter, so I always use 2 cups. I love anise seed, so I always use the larger amount. Not everyone likes so much of this unusual spice, so use the smaller amount if you prefer.
8 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
2 cups sugar (see Cook’s Note)
2 to 3 teaspoons ground anise seed (see Cook’s Note)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 large eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 pound (2 sticks) salted butter
1 1/2 cups milk
Two 1/4-ounce packets active dry yeast
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup milk
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) salted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup water
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, all but 1 tablespoon of the sugar, the anise seed, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the nuts and whisk to blend. Pour into the dry ingredients and stir until combined. The mixture will be dry. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the milk and the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and heat until the mixture is warm (105° to 115°F). Remove from the heat. Stir in the yeast and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
Add the warm liquid to the dry ingredients and mix well (I use my hands) until the dough comes together and doesn’t stick to your hands or spoon. The dough will be very dense.
Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours.
Position an oven rack in the top third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Lightly flour a clean work surface. Pull a golf ball-size piece of dough out of the bowl and place it on the floured surface. Use your hands to roll it into a 6-inch-long “cigar” and then curve it into a round donut. Seal the ends together where they meet. Place on the lined baking sheet and flatten it with your hand. Continue making donuts, placing them 1 inch apart on the sheet.
Bake until lightly browned on top, about 15 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough.
Meanwhile, make the syrup dip: In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, milk, butter, vanilla, and water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer until the syrup is clear and thickens slightly, 7 to 10 minutes.
Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Dunk both sides of the warm donuts in the syrup and lay them on the wax paper to set. Serve the donuts warm.
Store the donuts in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.